When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen – Review

Published by Black Swan

Publication date – 21 April 2016

Source – review copy




Amira, Sarah, Paula, Ewan and Charlie have worked together for years – they know how each one likes their coffee, whose love life is a mess, whose children keep them up at night. But their comfortable routine life is suddenly shattered when an aggressive new boss walks in ….

Now, there’s something chilling in the air.

Who secretly hates everyone?

Who is tortured by their past?

Who is capable of murder?”
Read more on the Penguin website.


I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

We spend 35 hours a week with them, see them more sometimes more than family, definitely spend more time with them than friends. Some we get on with, others we secretly can’t stand. But how well do we really know the people we work with? A group of executives at a London recruitment consultants are thrown into disarray when their manager is replaced by Rachel. Known for her tough stance, she intentionally begins to drive a wedge between the group, causing friendships to fracture and personal conflicts to take place. But things go from being unfriendly to downright deadly. Meanwhile in the U.S. Dr Anne Cater recalls a child abuse case from many years ago, reminded of it by an event in London involving a group of executives from a recruitment firm…

I’d had this book a short while and picked it up meaning to read a page or two to gauge if it was to be my next read. When I reluctantly had to stop reading I was 116 pages in and hooked.

When She Was Bad is the true definition of a psychological thriller. The book starts out revealing that something terrible has happened. We know that a group of people who work together are involved. What we don’t know is what has happened. But we need to know. That desire to find out what has happened drives the reader on. The level of menace builds throughout, Rachel’s apparent mind games effecting the others in a variety of ways, each one becoming a different person to the one the reader is initially introduced to.

All the while the parallel story of Anne Cater and her involvement in a horrific child abuse case she was asked to consult on years earlier adds another layer of tension. We know that this case is directly involved with one of the office workers over in London. What we don’t know is who, or why. As the story progresses the two narratives draw together fluidly, playing off each other perfectly.

The setting of an office environment is perfect. The majority of readers can associate themselves with the work environment, familiar with office politics, friendships and romances, petty jealously and rivalry. We may be lucky enough to work in a friendly environment where work is fun, or may unfortunately work in a place where the bad outweighs the good. It is the fact that we can draw on our own experiences, or easily imagine a terrible work environment that makes the story all the more effective. The reader can put themselves in the position of the characters, feel the dread of having to return day after day to a place they have come to hate, the stress of working with people you realise you don’t really know.

Each chapter is dedicated to a character, easy to differentiate as their name entitles that chapter. Each one is just the right length to lead you to justify to yourself ‘just one more chapter’. The great thing with this format of writing is that the information revealed about the characters is cleverly controlled. Facts are drip fed, character flaws and traits revealed but always tinged with the unreliability of the reader not quite being able to trust the character the chapter is focussed on, the belief that they may not be giving a true portrayal of the situation ever present.

The book is full of twists and turned and I had enormous fun trying to work out who would be the victim and who would be the perpetrator. There were some things that surprised me, others I had guessed before the reveal, leaving me with that smug ‘ I knew it’ feeling that comes with successfully pitting the few wits I have with a skilled storyteller. The strands of the story weave together perfectly, the undercurrent of menace and knowledge that something horrendous was going to happen is ever present throughout and draws the reader along.

This is a story of how we don’t really know the people we work along side every day. We only ever really see one facet of a person. We are all different things to different people. Some see us only as a mother or father, husband or wife, son, daughter, sister or brother. To others we are friends or colleagues. To each of them we reveal only certain sides to our characters, showing only those facets of us that are relevant to the person we are interacting with. We don’t know what horrors or traumas others may have faced, can’t try to take that into account when dealing with someone and so we have to be guided by our own moral compass, be kind, considerate and respectful to all, and hope that those good intentions are felt.

It is also a story of the long term ramifications of child abuse. How the external scars may heal but the psychological effects of mistreatment by the ones who are supposed to love us, protect us and keep us safe can be long-lasting and far-reaching.

This is the first book by Tammy Cohen that I have read. I now know what I have been missing out on. Luckily I have her other books to read whilst I wait for her next book.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Karen says:

    Great review Janet. I love Tammy Cohen’s books, you’re in for a treat if you have others to read


    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks Karen. I definitely need to read her other books after reading When She Was Bad 🙂


  2. Brilliant review Janet and you are in for a treat with Tammy Cohen’s other books!


    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks Cleo. I think I’ve been missing out, not having read any of her other novels. I’ll have to shuffle the TBR around 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great premise. I love the idea of not really knowing people you spend a lot of time with. Sounds great!


    1. janetemson says:

      I thought it worked really well. It was easy to imagine working in an environment that is suddenly toxic and fills you with dread! It had me gripped 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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